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Family members shoot together for Singapore

HANOI - The SEA Games are a family affair for some among the 424-strong Singapore contingent competing at the Hanoi SEA Games.

Dancesport has siblings Gary and Chelsy Tsan, as well as Jerome and Rachel Teo, silat the brothers Sheik Farhan Sheik Alau'ddin and Sheik Ferdous while the diving team has the Ong twins, Sze En and Rei En.

Here The Straits Times looks at the family ties in shooting: father and son Gai Bin and Tianrui, sisters Adele and Fernel Tan, as well as siblings Martina and Marat Veloso.

Gai Bin and Tianrui

When your parents are national shooters Gai Bin and Fan Xiaoping, who share 16 SEA Games pistol medals between them, it is almost inevitable that your second home is the shooting range.

That was indeed the case for Tianrui, but the teenager did not take to the sport at first.

He began shooting at 10 as part of the Ministry of Education's Junior Sports Academy programme, but preferred to play basketball with his friends while also dabbling in hockey and badminton in primary school.

The 18-year-old said: "At the start, I felt it was very boring but bo bian (no choice), they (his parents) forced me so I just continued."

It took him about three years to really take an interest in shooting when "I saw my scores going up, it motivated me and slowly I picked up interest".

Even then, the teenager opted for the air rifle instead of following in the footsteps of his parents as he wanted to do something different.

But four-time SEA Games champion Gai Bin does not mind as he only wanted his children - Tianrui and daughter Tianyue, 26 - to try the sport.

As coaches, the couple firmly believe that the sport can play a significant role in building one's character and developing traits such as self-control.

He explained: "During training and competitions, you need to concentrate and you have to control every part of your body. If you can't do that, or if one small part of your body moves, then you can end up shooting badly."

The 53-year-old, who also won three golds at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, noted that his son has mellowed since he picked up the sport. The once playful and impatient boy used to be triggered by incidents such as an accidental bump by strangers but he now shrugs them off.

"When I took up shooting, I calmed myself down, I can control myself better," said the Institute of Technical Education College Central student, who is proud of his father's achievements.

"During my studies, I also focus better in class and in school; I've changed a lot. I'm more patient with my friends, I can tolerate more things."

After rising steadily through the ranks in the national team, Tianrui earned the nod for a debut at the Hanoi SEA Games, where he will be competing with his father for the first time. It will be Gai Bin's eighth appearance at the regional event. Tianrui finished sixth in the men's 10m air rifle on Tuesday (May 17) while Gai Sr was seventh in the 50m pistol. Both have other events on the programme. Tianrui and Fernel also captured a silver in the 10m air rifle mixed team event on Wednesday. 

But the duo said the Games will not be any different from other overseas competitions as they view each other as teammates rather than family when they are competing. "At home sometimes we will share some of our experiences with each other but we won't talk too much because he has his own coach," said Gai Bin. "It's his first time at the SEA Games so he will slowly learn from the experience."

Adele and Fernel Tan

Sisters Fernel (left) and Adele Tan at Yishun Safra, on April 12, 2022. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

Sisters Adele and Fernel Tan share the same fashion sense, enjoy sushi and pasta, and even have matching charms on their shooting tripods. Such is the bond between the duo, who also have the same birthday, but that ends at the shooting range.

Adele, 23, and Fernel, 20, who both compete in the 10m air rifle, have gone head-to-head countless times in competitions and selection trials, but they do not hold back despite how close they are.

"When there is a need to, we will be competitive, especially in competitions. It's our responsibility as athletes to do our best," said Adele, a second-year undergraduate at the National University of Singapore. "We don't let go of our own abilities (just because we're sisters) but we also don't hate each other."

There is no animosity when one beats the other in a competition - they joke that they will beat the other in the next one.

They credit the support of the community around them, including their family members, coaches and schools, for encouraging healthy competition instead of pitting them against each other.

The biggest challenge of being siblings in the sport? Finding enough space in the car for their luggage when they travel for overseas competitions.

Adele, who won two bronze medals at the 2019 SEA Games, said: "Everyone thinks that our friends and family will compare and there's only one gold medallist but since we were young, our parents weren't like that.

"If she wins, it probably just means that she was better on the day and I probably have some stuff to improve on."

The sisters may share similar interests, but their shooting styles are quite different - Adele tends to be more intuitive, while Fernel prefers taking more time to shoot.

Last year, as Adele was preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, Fernel agreed to be her companion during practice for a month-long training camp that saw them housed at the Singapore Sports School.

The only time they could leave the school was on the weekends, when they would go to Safra Yishun to compete. When boredom crept in, they kept themselves entertained with online shopping and watching Hong Kong period drama series.

Fernel made her Games debut in Hanoi, where she partnered Adele and Natanya Tan to win a bronze but finished seventh in the individual event. She had said earlier: "Handling the pressure is one of my top goals; I feel like if I'm able to handle it, it can bring me far in other competitions."

Martina and Marat Veloso

Siblings Martina (left) and Marat Veloso at Yishun Safra, on April 12, 2022. ST PHOTO: SAMUEL ANG

Marat remembers the moment that inspired him to pursue the sport of shooting.

It was 2014 and the then-11-year-old was on the edge of his seat as he watched his older sister Martina competing in the final of the ISSF World Cup in Munich.

On that fateful day, Martina's final shot saw her beating the Czech Republic's 2008 Olympic champion Katerina Emmons for the gold - a milestone for the 14-year-old.

Recalling that moment, Marat, 19, said: "I was feeling nervous and anxious because I really wanted her to win a competition so I was emotionally involved even though I wasn't actually there.

"The fact that she was a World Cup champion at the age of 14 sparked my interest because shooting is a sport where age does not matter. I was kind of interested in shooting because of how competitive it is and that even shooters who are still young and in their teens could still be world champions and win many international competitions."

Eight years on, Marat and Martina are competing at the Hanoi SEA Games, where Marat will be making his debut while Martina is featuring in her third Games.

Growing up in a sports-mad household - all five Veloso children are named after tennis players - the duo dabbled in a variety of sports from a young age.

Both siblings hold junior black belts in taekwondo, while Marat was also a competitive swimmer and Martina tried synchronised swimming for a while.

But shooting won out in the end.

Having been in the sport for about a decade, Martina, a first-year communications undergraduate at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, often shares lessons she has picked up over the course of her career with her brother, like dealing with competing in high-level competitions as a newer shooter.

She is also the first person Marat, a third-year engineering student at Nanyang Polytechnic, goes to if he needs any advice.

"It's nice to have a sibling in the same sport and at a high level - I'm able to teach him some things that I learned along the way and he's also able to relate to some of them," said Martina, a two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist.

With both of them having the same pet event, the 22-year-old mainly shares advice on the mental aspect of the sport, such as how to manage expectations.

She is also aware of the pressure Marat feels to live up to her achievements and frequently reminds him that the most important thing is for him to enjoy the sport.

Marat, who has been working with his coach and sports psychologist, said: "I really want to do well so both of us can have good performances and everyone can think that these Veloso siblings are really good. Ever since I started shooting, everyone already has had high expectations of me because I am Martina's brother.

"It's hard dealing with this pressure because it's always there, I just have to deal with it, just focus on the things that I can focus on and are in my control."

One of their memorable moments from being in the same sport was at last September's Singapore Cup, where they rewrote their national men's and women's 50m rifle three positions records.

Their friendly competition extends to the family too, with Marat determined to beat Martina at being the favourite among their three younger siblings - Monica, Michaella and Mikhael, who are 10, eight and four respectively.

Martina said: "He is very domesticated - he knows how to change diapers and stuff because my mum couldn't do everything. I'm surprised they do not like him more than they like me... I think it's more for him like he wants to beat me but I'm like, 'No, you cannot', but I'm looking forward to the day he does. It'll be a good thing to celebrate."

FamilySEA Gamesshooting - sport